As almost everyone has heard over the past couple days, South Carolina’s Republican Governor Mark Sanford went AWOL several days last week, ostensibly hiking the Appalachian Trail, before being met at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport by an inquiring reporter from the Columbia daily The State. In reality, Sanford had just returned from a spontaneous trip to “exotic” Argentina where, he said, he drove the coastline alone.
Many observers have suggested, some with great hilarity, that to reach that coastline, the governor would first have had to drive at least four or five hours through hundreds of miles of pasturelands, on short mid-winter days, before reaching the scenic coast of southern Buenos Aires province. If not, his best alternative was the Avenida Costanera (pictured here), which runs past the Buenos Aires city airport Aeroparque before dead-ending a few miles north.
For more details please go to Southern Cone Travel.
Anyone who’s been to Buenos Aires since the political and economic meltdown of 2002 is aware that the city has become the top gay travel destination in all of South America, and one of the most important in the world.
A recent issue of the Economist provides a good summary of BA’s gay appeal, with its vigorous nightlife (including a gay milonga or tango dance club), Latin America’s most liberal domestic partnership laws, the arrival of gay cruises, and even the five-star “hetero-friendly” Axel Hotel on the edge of San Telmo.
Another of Argentina’s attractions, for all sexual orientations, is the country’s wine. As far as I know, though, Buenos Aires is the only city in the world with an openly Gay Wine Store, near Plaza San Martin in the upscale barrio of Retiro. Personally, though, I’m bewildered as to what constitutes gay wine, and would appreciate it if anybody could clue me in. Red, white, or rosé?
As I wrote in a post on my own blog earlier this year, Chile and Peru dispute the origin of the addictive aperitif known as the pisco sour, the welcome drink at nearly every hotel in both countries. I enjoy both the Chilean and Peruvian versions, but I never expected to read, as I did in a recent Huffington Post, that George W. Bush had broken his personal prohibition pledge at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru, with a pisco sour.
On my last night in Santiago de Chile before heading north into the Atacama desert for several weeks, I enjoyed a fish dinner at Ostras Azócar, one of the city’s classic seafood restaurants. In tribute to Mr. Bush’s rare indulgence of good taste — and his imminent departure from the U.S. presidency — I ordered a Peruvian pisco sour (pictured here). I’ll have at least one more on January 20th, and I’ll hope that he enjoys many more in the coming years.
By the way, despite what the Huffington Post piece suggests, there is no such thing as non-alcoholic pisco, which is at least 30 to 35 percent (60 to 70 proof) alcohol. In fairness to Mr. Bush, refusing it would not only have violated diplomatic protocol — it would have been extremely rude in the Peruvian context.
It’s not me who’s stranded, as I’ve just returned from Rapa Nui (Easter Island, about which I’ll write more in the coming days) to Santiago de Chile. My 20-year-old daughter Clio, though, has written me from southernmost Patagonia, where her progress has been slowed partly by her learning the ropes on her first major trip to southern South America, partly because public transport connections were less than perfect (she spent a night sleeping in the bus terminal at Río Gallegos, Argentina), and partly because public workers’ strikes have slowed the border crossings on the Chilean side of the border (in one instance, she had to wait five hours to cross from Chile into Argentina).
It’s also because the buses from Puerto Natales (Chile, pictured above) to El Calafate (Argentina) have been so full that she had to wait several days in town to get a seat — which suggests that, despite the global economic crisis, Patagonia remains a hot destination.
For more details, please visit Southern Cone Travel.
In its annual “destination scorecard” of historic places, National Geographic Traveler has ranked Argentina’s “Mendoza Wine Estancias” as the tenth-best of 109 destinations around the world. According to Traveler, its wineries and vineyards, are “in excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so.” It describes the city of Mendoza, as “a pleasant walking city with lots of cultural activities and nice parks,” and notes an “amazing number of first-rate restaurants in both the city and countryside.”
Traveler rates its destinations according to half a dozen criteria: 1) environmental and ecological quality; 2) social and cultural integrity; 3) condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; 4) aesthetic appeal; 5) quality of tourism management; and 6) outlook for the future. By all these standards, Mendoza ranks high.
For more details on Mendoza and vicinity, please go to Southern Cone Travel.
Last week I got a note from the operator of a small tourist lodge in Tierra del Fuego asking me what I thought the impact of the current global economic crisis might be on this summer’s season. On the surface, of course, it makes sense that people whose mutual funds have lost a third of their value might be reluctant to spend money traveling great distances but, at the same time, there’s a certain logic in going against the grain. I’d never suggest that people should throw away their retirement funds on a two weeks’ vacation but, just as investor Warren Buffett recently said, he’s moving his money into U.S. stocks because of the financial meltdown, international travelers may find they’ll get more for their money in traveling to the Southern Cone countries. Continue reading »
Nearly thirty years ago, when I first visited Argentina during the Proceso military dictatorship, an apparently drunken policeman in the Patagonian town of Puerto San Julián insisted in telling me how much he loved Americans. In those grim days, any such attention from an official figure made you uncomfortable and, as it turned out, the policeman in question was heavily medicated - having shot himself in the foot the day before.
Fortunately, Argentina is a stable democracy now, but that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t shoot itself in the foot sometimes. Last week, interior minister Florencio Randazzo announced that the country would institute a “reciprocity fee” - similar to the one collected by neighboring Chile - on foreign visitors whose governments impose visa fees on Argentine citizens. This would mean, for instance, that US citizens entering Argentina would have to pay US$131 per person for the right to enter Argentina, while Canadians would pay even more. Australians and Mexican would pay less. Continue reading »
It’s time to think about traveling to the Southern Hemisphere and, over the next several weeks, I will be giving slide talks about Patagonia and Buenos Aires at various bookstores and other locales on the west coast and the Eastern Seaboard, so this will be the place to ask your questions and, perhaps, win a free ticket to Buenos Aires or Santiago. The first event is at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, October 2, at Get Lost Books in San Francisco. This will be followed by events at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, on Sunday, October 5; Travel Bug in Vancouver BC on Monday, October 6; and Wide World Books in Seattle on Tuesday, October 7. For complete details of all events, as well as the air ticket raffle, see my Southern Cone Travel blog.
According to the international consultancy group Mercer, as quoted in Mercopress Noticias, Buenos Aires is getting more expensive for foreigners. That’s no surprise—anyone who’s spent any time in town the last couple years can tell you that costs of hotels, restaurants, taxis, and other services are all rising rapidly. What’s surprising is that Mercer, whose annual cost of living survey for expatriates around the world appears only in part on their website, says that Buenos Aires still ranks 138th out of 143 cities worldwide, making it nearly the cheapest major city in the world (Asunción, in neighboring Paraguay, is the cheapest). The most expensive is Moscow, and São Paulo (25th) is the most expensive in South America. Continue reading »